Nicki and Paul organised a great Lakeland weeknd.

Route

Great fun route, with some entertaining weather. However, that was peanuts compared with what was to come!

Huw was sadly missed, both for his company and his music, but he should be back in the saddle soon.

Howard found some diesel and the Cagiva bit the dust. Pity, nice little bike.

 

Robbie organised another wonderful (and exhilarating) extension.

Photos

So here's the thing.
During the Saturday in Penrith and over breakfast on Sunday morning people started giving me looks. You know the ones. Slightly pitying. A bit knowing. Bad weather was mentioned. Something about a hurricane. It couldn't be that bad.

Could it ?

We all had a chat about how to get to Portpatrick. All opinions were taken into account before I told them where we were going. I had a cunning plan. It involved a swift blat up the M6 to Elvanfoot before taking a swift left to pick up the A702 for the business of the day. But first we had to stop at Yoav's house to pick the boy up. And drink tea. And eat Helen's most marvelous cakes. Apart from Adrian of course. He had 2 or 3. In the event we peeled off the M74 at Beattock to use the motorway bypass as it was getting a bit windy on the big road. Hmmm.
Elvanfoot to Thornhill was windy and wet but once over the Dalveen pass we found a welcoming cafe in Thornhill for lunch. Jackie expressed a need for petrol. There is no petrol in Thornhill on a Sunday. Fortified we pressed on via Moniaive to Dalry. Jackie got petrol. We all got petrol. The garage specialised in restored WW2 Jeeps.
It was drying up. This was good as the zip on my Lidl one piece had expired in Carlisle and the stretchy bits in my leathers were proving remarkably water absorbent. Hein Gericke beckons. Curse you Earnshaw. The gore-tex was donned.
The A702 was relinquished for the A712 and some random gravelly bits. Then a drop down into the Machars of Wigtownshire and my house for some tea. Just in time for the interesting motorcycles contingent were experiencing combustion problems. Pete's TL1000 was a TL500 and Jeanne's 748 was coming out in sympathy as a 374. My 748 was behaving so far. The keys to the shed were accessed. Pete accessed my WD40 stash. Bon followed. Jeanne looked a little tense. Chris came to look at the good stuff in the other shed and looked very, very happy. Ian led the rest over to Portpatrick.
Once everyone was sorted and running on all cylinders we followed on drying roads. The last bit down to Portpatrick was taken at pace. Remarkable how tacky modern sports touring tyres get on a dry, twisty road.
The Fernhill Hotel was as welcoming as ever. I had my own wee terrace overlooking the harbour. Food was fab. Wine was quaffable. Only the weather remained unpredictable.

One of the nice things about the Fernhill Hotel in Portpatrick is the conservatory. They set up a table for us in there and the view is stunning across the harbour and the Irish sea. So the view at breakfast time on Monday gave me some concern. Grey marched the waves across the North Channel. White was the spray smashing over the harbour wall. Slightly unsettling were the creaking noises coming from the structure of the conservatory itself.
Peter was undaunted. Ride to Ardrossan he would. Take it from there. His fortitude was impressive. I felt a little sick personally. I phoned the terminal at Ardrossan.
What is happening with the Arran ferry I asked.
“Weel” said an unusually cheerful Ayrshire voice “He’s gahn tae see if he can get it oot o’ Brodick. If he manages that he’ll hae a go at gettin’ it intae here. If he manages that he’ll see if he can get back ower. If he manages that he’ll dae it again. Oh the weather’s tae get worse later on. Whit boat did ye say ye had booked ?”
There seemed little point in telling him but we resolved to reconvene at Ardrossan pier and make a plan. The nice lady at reception had printed us out a weather forecast. It didn’t help.
After all that the ride up as far as Ayr was fab. The wind on our backs resulted in effortless 80mph overtakes on a whiff of throttle. Bon & Jeanne peeled off into Ayr to get tyres for Bon’s Trumpet. Jane & Keith had left early for Oban and Mull to rejoin us in Kentallen.
The next bit was when Katia showed us her teeth. The road climbs up past Irvine over the hill behind Ardrossan. As we turned across the wind it all got a bit difficult. Oh and it started to rain too. Beneath me the wee Ducati started to tack and wander. It didn’t slide but direction got a lot harder to plot. The wind buffeted and pummelled us. Pushing enough to force us to countersteer then slackening so we sickeningly yawed back towards the kerb. It was hard work in short. Once at Ardrossan we parked in a pedestrian walkway out of the blast. Otherwise the bikes would have blown over.
The boats were off. It took them a while to decide but they were definitely off. The waves coming over the breakwater told their own story. Time for a new plan.
God I hate organising !
Could Kentallen take us a night early ? Yes !
Were the Gourock to Dunoon ferries running ? Yes !
Were people willing to do the extra miles ? Yes !
Buckle up & go for it people.
So we did.
From Ardrossan to Gourock the road hugs the Clyde coast. It was wild, woolly but strangely enjoyable. The spray and seaweed across the carriageway added something undoubtedly. In Skelmorlie I had the unusual experience of a wave breaking on top of me to the enormous amusement of a following Martin. Seconds later the same happened to him. Arf !
The Western Ferry to Dunoon is a wee boat which just keeps going. Previous experience in similar conditions with Scabbbers had pre-warned me but not the rest of the group. The man in the yellow jacket soon informed them
“Stay by your bike and HAUD ON TAE IT !” he cheerfully bellowed.
So we did.
And we got soaked even more. By the spray from the bow. We were at the BACK of the boat.
It was strangely magnificent. The best thing was watching the cursor on Ade’s GPS heading off across a field of blue whilst all around was grey and wailing white. Martin paid our fares. Western Ferries should have paid us.
We reconvened in a cafe outside Dunoon staffed by a spectacularly surly woman. She lifted her bosom from the table where it rested long enough to serve us restorative soup. In return we flooded the floor of her establishment and steamed up every piece o f glass in the place. Fabulous.
And so we sploshed onwards. Martin said he would do his own thing. We caught him up after 50 miles anyway when he got all severe with a local in a hot Renault. Impressive it were. You can tell he’s an ex motocrosser. Limbs fell from trees. Trees fell from trees. Roads were closed behind us. But the bikes plodded on. I’m sure Ducati didn’t have this in mind when they designed the 748.
In my head I ticked off the obstacles between us and Kentallen as we went along.
Cross the Clyde, done.
Through the forests by Ben More, check.
Connel Bridge over the Falls of Lora, oooooweeee !
The Bridge at Creagan, nearly done.
Up through Appin overlooking Castle Stalker.
And suddenly we were there.
Soaked to the skin but utterly buzzing from the experience. Waterproofs dumped in the bath. Chills quelled in the shower. Bikes parked in the lee of the hotel. Only 200 miles by road but a JOURNEY nevertheless. Fantastic !
Langoustines & Duck for me that night.
Tomorrow was officially declared a bike free day to unanimous acclaim.

Tuesday dawned to slightly less wind but more rain if that were possible.
Opinion was unanimous. No motorbiking today. Cultural delights beckoned.

We split into 4 main groups.
Jane & Keith would go for a walk.
Pete & Debs would take Ian ice climbing.
Jeanne would do her own thing.
The rest of us would go to Oban on the bus.

I have not been on a scheduled bus in 20 years. I am scared of them. Glasgow buses 30 years ago had a byzantine fare structure, baffling routes and drivers of terrifying incivility. Accordingly I went to interrogate a local person at the bus stop. But she came from Mull and plainly considered me a strange elderly man, probably harmless. The trip to Oban was remarkably pleasant and unfamiliarly dry. Chris and I discussed engine internals all the way. It was excellent. Then we all had tea & cakes. Then we all bought goretex socks. Then we went to the bookshop. Then we went to the distillery but couldn't get on a tour. Then we went to the pub. I quite liked it. It had a big telly, poor choice of beer, a lot of empty floor space for people who like to stand up as they drink and smelly toilets. It reminded me of the pubs of my youth before they became nice. Then we got back on the bus and went home.

Jane & Keith took their walk and met an otter.

Ian clung desperately to an indoor ice face whilst Peter beat him from below with the blunt end of an ice axe and Debs kicked ice chips in his face from above with her crampons laughing maniacally all the while. At least I think that's what he said.

And Jeanne ? She got 3 DVDs from reception and went back to bed.

That night Adrian played his guitar after dinner. But tomorrow we would go for a ride.

 

Wednesday dawned and the last of Hurricane Katia had finally left us.
Yoav & I had actually taken to calling it Hurricane Tinky in a vain attempt to laugh off the worst of it's depredations.
Anyway we breakfasted looking over a calm Loch Linnhe. There was even a hint of sunshine.
We decided to head for Mallaig so Uncle Ade could see the Hogwarts Express.
Waterproofs had lost their sogginess. Boots treated to a firm dose of the hairdryer. Mine now stank like a 4 day dead dog.

In dribs & drabs we trailed away from the hotel toward the Corran Ferry. Once there we reformed on the slipway much to the annoyance of a cager who complained to the ferryman who came and shouted at Adrian for not queueing up like a good boy. Then he shouted at Ian W for walking up the bow ramp to take photos. He was a most shouty wee man. We deigned to shout back. We are above such things. We are the Quacks who are Quick.

Turning left off the ferry we climbed over the saddle in line astern to drop down to the side of Loch Sunart. Somewhere along here I may have encouraged the Ducati to inhale deep lungfulls of fine Highland air and slingshotted past an unsuspecting Bon who was being well behaved and taking in the scenery. Sorry Bon. The views through here are gorgeous and really we should have taken the time to enjoy them but it felt so nice to be back on dry tarmac and only a headwind of our own making to cope with.
Strontian and Acharacle, round the tail of Loch Shiel, GlenUig to join the main road at Lochailort.

The A830 to Mallaig was single track in places the first time I rode it. It isn't now. It's magnificent. A rolling, curving, scenic romp all the way to Mallaig and the Skye ferry. We did it justice. Parked up in Mallaig grinning & giggling guiltily to each other. Took refuge in a cafe. Giggled a bit more. Coffee and a scone. Bon had fish and chips. Then moaned he was too full. What can you do.
Suddenly the place filled with lots of people in pastel leisurewear. The steam train had arrived. Adrian rushed off to take a picture. I suspect more than one.
It started to rain again. We were not downhearted.

As we headed back east the roads dried again. Significant progress was made. Well I thought it was until Peter honked out past me somewhere past Arisaig. I followed him for a while, it was going well, lots of rpms were used, I turned the throttle until it wouldn't go any further. Then it started to rain again. Then I had a wee slide on a left hander. Pete was gone. I could smell petrol. Was it on the road waiting to slip slide me into a slippery doom ?
No. Pete's TL was on one cylinder again. We trundled by him making cheery single cylinder single digit signs. Somewhere alongside Loch Eil he did his Millenium Falcon on reheat thing. Before he disappeared over the horizon he gestured that he had 2 cylinders again.

As a respite from such silliness we turned left in Corpach and picked our way up the single track B8004 to Gairlochy following the west bank of the Caledonian canal. Thomas Telford built the canal. He was born just up the valley from Bon & Jeanne's house. But the road's lovely too.

We all met up again at the Commando memorial at Spean Bridge. Despite passing here literally hundreds of times over the years I'd never actually stopped before. It's a surprisingly simple place. Just a statue of 3 soldiers looking down the Great Glen where they trained during WW2. A few plaques. People's own memorials to their men who survived the war to grow old and die in their own time. Some sad little new posies to shockingly young men recently lost in Iraq & Afghanistan. Powerful.

Down the A82 to Fort William for petrol. Past my Granny's old house and round the bypass. Left in North Ballachulish up to Kinlochleven where we had a cup of coffee in the climbing centre. Used to be an aluminium smelter it did. Young women were strapping themselves into harnesses, tying themselves up in ropes and spreadeagling themselves against walls. Most offputting it was. Gave me a bit of a turn.

Then we played swapsies. Chris folded himself onto the 748 and I took the K1300s back to the hotel. Remember I said that a new Multistrada was really feckin' fast ? Well I think a K1300s might be even feckin' faster. Chris's one exhales through a full Akrapovic system which definately adds a certain frisson to the experience. Naughty little pops and bangs on the over-run. Curiously dead feel from the girder fork front end but a seemingly endless well of power with a seamless delivery. Comfy and easy to ride. Polar opposite to the 748 in short. I asked Chris what he thought of the 748.
"It's really, really small." Was all he said.

Back at the Holly Tree the sun was out throwing spectacular shadows across the Morvern hills.
Glass of red wine on the terrace, Adrian playing guitar, more langoustines and some venison tonight I think.

A perfect day ?

Pretty damn close.

 

Day 5 of our little adventure dawned clear and sunny. Yes you read that right. Clear skies and dry roads.
Best not waste it then.
It’s 156 miles from Kentallen to Moffat but I had a cunning plan. Cunning like a particularly cunning thing. That should bung another 50 miles or so onto it. So with the sun warm on our backs we packed the bikes, said our goodbyes to the Hollytree and rolled out onto the A828 heading for Glencoe.
Glencoe is a funny place. Approached from the east and Rannoch Moor’s grandeur it gathers you into it’s encroaching mountains with blatant intimidation and threat. From the west it’s much more benign being merely stunning. Particularly when the hills are outlined against blue skies and the river tumbles prettily through the rocks. And the tourists stop their cars to take pictures.
And the buses.
And the cyclists.
And the walkists.
So we’re off over Rannoch Moor to the Green Welly at Tyndrum for coffee. It is only 37 miles from Kentallen to Tyndrum. We do it in less than half an hour. None of us are ready for coffee but we have one anyway. There is an unspoken rule about Rannoch Moor. Do not go slowly and do not stop. If you do the size of the landscape crushes you like a beetle underfoot. The police run 2 unmarked black Z1000s over here. We meet one doing a Bikesafe ride in a lay-bye on the moor. He heard us go past I reckon.
Through Crianlarich heading for Perthshire I see a big Merc coming out of another lay-bye. He must have seen me but obviously reckons if he gets right onto the throttle he’ll be away in front. As I go past I can hear the blowers on the big motor whining desperately. Look in the driver’s window, shake my head, whiff of gas and check out on a wave of desmoboom. A glance in the 748’s tortuous mirrors shows a big black Mercedes submerged in a gaggle of annoyed Quacks. We don’t see him again.
The cunning plan kicks in now and we branch left onto the A827 heading up the side of Loch Tay and Aberfeldy. The landscape changes here to become a bit more benign. Mature forests and slightly gentler hills. In Aberfeldy we turn right to make for Crieff but a few miles out of town meet a policeman who is stopping traffic. The road is closed ahead as they’re bringing in a monster wind turbine. We have a Caledonian discussion centering on the concept of a “while”. Will it be a wee while, a while or a guid while ? We settle on a guid while and the Crieff limb is abandoned. We regroup back on the A827 just short of the A9. Discussions are made. Decisions are taken. The cunning plan is in tatters. Again.
So with the gentlest of arm twisting Bon leads us off down the A9, around Perth and along the M90 through Fife. Lunch is taken near Kelty where John wedges an ear plug so deeply in it requires skilled medical intervention to extract. Audrey does it with sterile forceps from Chris’s toolkit. After food Chris leads us to a filling station. We all assume he is following his sat-nav but it transpires he is using traditional random QQ route finding. Over the Forth bridge we go and round the Edinburgh bypass to break South for the A701. Bon gets all enthusiastic in a speedy kind of way. This is different terrain again. A riding road. Not one for taking in the scenery. We all go much too fast. It is excellent. Until I do an ill advised follow through behind Bon. The last of the 3 cars involved a round the outside of a left hand bend manoeuvre. All was well until a lorry appeared coming the other way. A bob and a weave and we were through and away. Stress left in my wake though. Not good. Down the side of the Devil’s Beeftub trying to look invisible to the oncoming police car and roll into Moffat on closed throttles and fading adrenaline.
Around the back of the Buccleuch Arms Bon lets us into the yard where we are met by the owner who ushers us into purpose built bike garages where we lock our cooling bikes away and leave sweaty kit to air. Beers are bought and stories are told. Peter resolves to definitively fix his TL using WD40 and a toothbrush. Although no stranger to the workshop this is a new technique to me. Particularly as he starts by spraying the right hand exhaust can before scrubbing it with the toothbrush and jetwashing it off. Such fascinating behaviour provides much fruit for discussion. Particularly once he actually starts to take it to bits. Then we all get very helpful with the suggestions. Peter takes it all in good part and swears blind that he’s fixed it. I reckon his TL is slowly turning into the Ducati he should have bought it the first place.
Shower. More wine. Steak. Bed.
Home tomorrow.